ARC Review: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

Genre : YA Fantasy
Publication Date : July 30, 2019
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Somehow, 2019 has gone from Hot Girl Summer to Hot Dragon Summer. I don’t know HOW it happened, but at the start of 2019 I very firmly Did Not Like Dragons and yet, here I am, seven months into the year, with 80% of the books I’ve read having involved a scaly flying fire-breather in some capacity. And honestly – I kind of love it. (Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC!).

Dragons lie at the heart of Rebecca Kim Wells’ debut novel Shatter the Sky. The story opens in the mountains of Ilvera with Maren and Kaia, childhood sweethearts. Ilvera, once the land of the dragons, has been reduced to a shadow of its former glory ever since the emperor invaded and stole the dragons away. Kaia, the more bold and daring of the two, has grand plans of leaving Ilvera to travel the world. Maren, less certain of adventures, is reluctantly resigned to follow the love of her life wherever she goes. All of this changes, however, when the emperor’s band of Aurati come to Ilvera and steal Kaia away. Maren, usually timid and cautious, decides to steal a dragon from the emperor and use it to break Kaia out of the mysterious city of Lumina where she is imprisoned.

I really and truly adored the world of this story – Wells does a brilliant job at making her universe seem real and lived-in. I particularly loved all the small details of Ilvera culture, especially the focus on music and its connection to dragons. I was also super intrigued by the idea of the Aromatory and the use of condensed scents to control and communicate with dragons. Unique details like this are sprinkled throughout the book, keeping me interested and wanting to learn more and more about the characters and the world they live in. I can’t wait to learn more about the Aurati and the emperor going forward – Wells just touches the surface of these subjects in this first book, and I know things are going to get wild in the sequel!

Maren’s journey and character arc was such a delight to read, and rightly my favorite part of this book. She went from timid and cautious to fierce and independent in the span of 300 pages – and I believed every moment of it. Watching her become more and more self-confident throughout the book was so beautiful (I particularly loved all the scenes at the dragon training academy!). I can’t wait to see how her character continues to develop and grow moving forward, especially in relation to other characters like Kaia and Sev!

Shatter the Sky is 100% the kind of book I wish I’d had in middle school and high school – it has passionate and resourceful young women, beautiful world-building, DRAGONS, and of course a totally amazing and earnest love story between two girls (and a possible love triangle with a handsome prince???). Basically, this is everything I ever wanted as a kid, and I’m so delighted that young readers have access to books like this now! If you love amazingly queer YA fantasy, pre-order it now – we need to support more fantastic diverse fiction like this!!

P.S. ALSO OK I don’t know if Rebecca Kim Wells is familiar with Avatar: The Last Airbender but there was a scene involving a cabbage merchant that had me laughing OUT LOUD for way longer than was necessary…….so if you’re an A:TLA fan, keep an eye out for that lol

10 Angry Bisexual Dragon-Stealing Teenagers out of 10

ARC Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Genre : Science Fiction
Date Published : July 16, 2019
Publisher : Saga Press

In honor of Pride month being over but continuing on in our hearts forever and ever and ever, this week I’m reviewing the delightful ARC of This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Amal Eh-Mohtar is one of my all time favorite short story writers (see: The Truth About Owls ) and I had the pleasure of taking part in Max Gladstone’s class for a Writing the Other workshop this winter. Needless to say, I was over the moon when I heard these two brilliant writers were collaborating on a queer time-travel story! Thanks NetGalley and Saga Press for the opportunity to read this amazing ARC.

This beautiful little novella is set far in the future (and the past, and the present, and the alternate timelines of all three) where two warring civilizations – Garden and The Agency – are trying to gain control over the universal timeline. Garden is an ecological society, controlled by a plant-based organism called Garden that grows the organization’s agents. The Agency, in direct contrast, is a technological society lead by Commandant and comprised of cyborg and robotic agents.

Red, one of The Agency’s most prized agents, first encounters a rival from Garden early in the book. Her name is Blue, and she leaves behind a letter for Red that reads “Burn before reading.” This delightful exchange kickstarts a series of encounters between Red and Blue in which they thwart one another’s missions and leave behind increasingly playful (and serious) letters to each other along the way.

This novella is comprised of short scenes from the POV of both Red and Blue and the letters they exchange with one another throughout their rivalry, friendship, and (eventually) loooooooove. The prose was unbelievably beautiful – each chapter read like a sort of poem! I found myself putting this book down every chapter or so. Each scene felt like eating a really delicious slice of cake – I had to sit in silence afterwards to digest how brilliant it was!

I truly LOVED this book. Red and Blue’s relationship was such a delight to watch unfold – Enemies to Lovers is the trope I will stand behind ’til the day I die, and I’m so happy I got to read it here! Beyond Red and Blue, the universe that El-Mohtar and Gladstone created here is unbelievably delightful – from the Napoleonic Wars to Victorian London to the Mongol Empire to the time of the dinosaurs and beyond, this books takes you on a mind-boggling journey through both time and space. I loved how some scenes, like the one set in the fancy tea shop in Victorian London, felt so familiar and tangible. These scenes contrasted brilliantly with other more unusual settings, like the one set in Garden, which was the most otherworldly and alien setting I think I’ve ever read (it was also one of my favorite scenes from the entire book!).

If you’re as excited about this queer time-traveling ladies as I am, I definitely recommend pre-ordering your copy of the book ASAP! It’s out in North America on July 16 and the UK July 18 (only a few weeks away!!) ~ I can’t wait to fangirl with y’all about Red and Blue it when it comes out!

10 Queer Time Traveling Ladies out of 10

-Emory

ARC Review | The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Genre : Historical Fantasy
Upcoming Publishing Date : August 6, 2019
Publisher : Harper Voyager

SPOILERS BELOW – READER BEWAAAARE!

This is my very first ARC review (yeehaw!) – thank you Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!

As with so many other amazing authors, I first heard about R.F. Kuang while attending Sirens Con this year. People were raving about her first book – The Poppy War – and I finally had the chance to start reading the series in April. On GoodReads, Kuang describes the series as: “If you liked Avatar: The Last Airbender but always wished it were a little darker and more fucked-up, you might like this.” And fucked-up it is!

Grimdark wartime fiction isn’t usually my ideal genre, but Kuang is just so good at constructing the world of her story and the characters that inhabit it. I didn’t find The Dragon Republic to be as overwhelmingly violent as The Poppy War (which grapples with The Rape of Nanjing, an extremely violent massacre during the Second Sino-Japanase War) but the sequel definitely doesn’t shy away from the violence and horrors of war. Kuang does an excellent job of balancing the fucked-up things with a lot of darkly funny dialogue, which I appreciated so much (the character interactions were really what kept me going when I got too overwhelmed by the violence).

The first half of the book took about two weeks for me to get through – there’s a lot of necessary fallout from the ending of The Poppy War that Kuang has to deal with before moving us forward in The Dragon Republic. The Third Poppy War is over, but no one is satisfied by its conclusion. Vaisa, the Dragon Warlord (and Nezha’s father), wants to conquer Nikara, unseat Empress Daji, and turn the country into a Republic. Rin and the Cike have been trying to assassinate Daji on their own, and so after a bit of convincing they join forces with Vaisa and begin their military campaign against the Empire. As this unfolds, we learn two very important things: 1) the Mugenese army is still alive and 2) the Hesperians (the verrrrry untrustworthy Western powerhouse mentioned briefly in the first book) arrive and may/may not agree to assist Vaisa’s army.

While all of this geopolitical maneuvering is happening, Kuang also forces Rin to grapple with her addiction to opium, come to terms with the destruction she wrought on Mugen, and deal with her grief from Altan’s death. I’ll admit it – I really hated Rin’s character in the first half of the book (though I think we’re supposed to!!). She’s impulsive, irresponsible, and sooooo self-centered. There were quite a few times where I felt like throwing my ereader across the room, because she was being so freakin’ reckless!! But, this being said, all of this made me love her so much more in the latter half!

When I reached the 60% mark (thanks ereader) the pacing of The Dragon Republic really picked up again and I had such a hard time putting it down! Rin has a truly breathtaking character arc in this book, and it was beautiful watching her evolve throughout the story. I particularly loved the way Rin’s relationship to the fire/the Phoenix (and, in effect, her own anger/rage) matured in this book – there were quite a few moments where I got all teared up thinking about how much Rin had changed since The Poppy War.

Of course, Rin couldn’t have done any of this without the help of the Cike, Kitay, or Nezha (!!!), all of whom I was soooo excited to have back on the page. Ramsa, Baji, and Suni were such a delight to read, and I was so thrilled to get more backstory for Chagan and Qara. Nezha and Kitay in particular take center-stage in The Dragon Republic (both in terms of plot and their relationship to Rin), and I’m very excited to see what happens with them next.

The Dragon Republic is such an amazing follow-up to The Poppy War. While it was a bit of a slow burn at the beginning, I was internally screaming throughout the entire final quarter of the book. (Seriously – shit gets WILD). I’m so excited for the third installment in the series (whenever that is!). But for now, I’m content with filling that void by crying about Rin/Nezha and daydreaming about firebending. Pre-order your copy of The Dragon Republic ASAP!!

9 Tiger’s tits out of 10!!!

-Emory